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MATTER AND MIND
In Buddhist perspective, there are three dimensions to our human existence traditionally called Body, Speech, and Mind. “Body” means our material body, the embodiment and encasement of our consciousness within a material vehicle moving about in the familiar physical world were we are engaged in the various activities of that world, especially in relation to other living beings also possessing material bodies. The Sutra discourses of the Buddha actually deal with all three of these dimensions of human existence, but the focus is on embodied consciousness, that is to say, our normal ordinary waking state of consciousness. The Sutra teachings are more concerned with this dimension of Body, especially our behavior and actions in terms of our interactions with other living beings. Therefore, there is much said here regarding ethics and morality and the rules of conduct that seek to prevent actions that would harm and cause pain to others. And the methods of the Sutras are often referred to as the path of renunciation. But the Sutra system is actually concerned with our whole dimension of embodied existence. This particularly refers to our embodied consciousness, that is to say, our everyday state of waking consciousness where we find ourselves encased within a material body. Therefore, the type of psychology elucidated in the Sutras is more concerned with the surface of consciousness and we may say that this Abhidharma psychology, which developed out of the Sutras, represents a phenomenology of consciousness.
The Tantra teachings, however, are much more concerned with energy and the transformations of energy. Therefore, the Tantra system is associated with our entire dimension of speech. Speech is sound and sound is energy and so Tantra refers to our whole dimension of energy as human beings. This means not only the sounds we make, but our breathing and our emotions as well. The word “Tantra” literally means continuity or continuum. What is continuous here is the emerging of energy in the form of thoughts and emotions out of the unconscious psyche. The term Tantra does not exclusively refer to sexual activity; sex is only one form of energy within human experience. Because of its emphasis on energy and sound, Tantra is also known as the Mantra system, where mantra is the creative power of sound and names to call phenomena into existence out of the pure potentiality of empty space. In itself, energy is without form, but it may be given form by means of ritual, incantation, and visualization. Moreover, energy has the characteristic that it can change and transform, so the methods of Tantra are said to represent the path of transformation. However, here in Tantra, the concern is not just with the manifestations of energy, but with the deep hidden sources of psychic energy, namely, the Nature of Mind. This psychic energy pertains to what we usually call the psyche or the soul. Therefore, the type of psychology associated with the Tantras might be called Buddhist “depth psychology”, where the focus is on the depths rather than the surface of the stream of consciousness.
However, the central concern of the Buddhist teachings is mind. Among these three dimensions of Body, Speech, and Mind, it is the latter that is most important and fundamental. Both bodily activity and the energy of the emotions depend on mind. Everything comes from mind. The Upadesha teachings of the Buddha and the Buddhist masters point directly to this mind that is the source. The focus of these instructions is the discovery within our immediate experience of this Nature of Mind and its capacity for awareness called Rigpa. The principal concern of both Dzogchen and Mahamudra is Mind, that is to say, the Nature of Mind. Here a crucial distinction is made between the mind (sems), our normal everyday thought process and waking state consciousness, and the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid), which is the source of our three dimensions of Body, Speech, and Mind. Our conscious thought process is changing from moment to moment; it is as fleeting as reflections seen on the surface of the water. But the Nature of Mind is outside and beyond time and conditioning. This distinction may be illustrated by the example of the mirror and the reflections that appear in the mirror. The Nature of the Mind is like the mirror and the mind or thought process is like the ever-changing reflections appearing in the mirror. In our normal waking state consciousness, afflicted with constant distractions, we live in the condition of the reflections, whereas in the state of contemplation we find ourselves in the condition of the mirror.